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A surprise appearance by a high-ranking leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marked president Cecil Samuelson's final Brigham Young University commencement ceremonies Thursday.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, prompted excited comments from students on Twitter — especially when he joked about the "Whoosh Cecil" free-throw cheer from BYU basketball games and accompanying local ice cream flavor.

"Today I would love to thank one special teacher and one special leader," said Uchtdorf, including Samuelson's wife Sharon in the compliment and calling for a round of applause and then giving Samuelson a hug.

To the graduates, he said, "always be a trumpet, maybe even a quartet or group of trumpets, for goodness in the world."

Uchtdorf's grandson graduated Thursday.

Samuelson, who referred to himself and his wife as "quasi-members of the class of 2014," said he hoped the long list of people who helped and supported the couple would "remember the special places you will hold in our hearts forever."

Samuelson, 72, will be replaced by Kevin J. Worthen, former law school dean and the current advancement vice president, on May 1. Samuelson has served as BYU president for 11 years.

"There is no community quite like what we have here," Samuelson said Thursday, encouraging the 5,800 graduates to "keep the commandments," and not to "put them on hold" until after doing "anything else that currently is so proximately important to us."

Graduation speaker Craig Cardon, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the editor of the LDS church's magazines, traced the usage of the phrase "and thus we see" in the Book of Mormon, encouraging the graduates to avoid long-term habits of "mocking God's commandments" and making impulsive decisions.

Student speaker Megan Hirschi, a native of Milton, Ga., said she was concerned that she seemed to be forgetting the finer points of organic chemistry — until she realized her college education was more about learning how to think rather than memorizing facts.

"For me, chemistry really has unlocked the mysteries of the universe," she said, "because it has not just given me knowledge but it has taught me how to learn."

Twitter: @lwhitehurst —

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